Xi’an is a must see for everyone interested in China and its culture. The city was one of the four great capitals of Imperial China and the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. It is the world’s the largest walled city, and for thousands of years travelers have come to Xi’an to trade exotic goods within its walls.
You and What Army?
The first emperor of a united China was Qin Shi Huang. In 246BC, he began making preparations for his death and ordered the construction of an elaborate burial chamber. He was buried inside a mountain, purported to have underground rivers of flowing mercury.
The most impressive part of the emperor’s mausoleum is the Terracotta Army. More than 8,000 life-sized terracotta statues were individually sculpted to defend the emperor in the afterlife. Even though the army dates back more than 2,000 years, it went undiscovered to modern China until a local farmer rediscovered the site in 1974. Excavations are still underway, but visitors explore the site in droves, marveling at the wonders of the ancient world.
The site is 80 kilometers outside of Xi’an, but is nonetheless easily accessible by taking local bus 306 from the Xi’an train station.
Inside The Walls
Xi’an is the world’s largest walled city, and while a large portion of the city is now outside of the walls, most of the city’s historical attractions are located inside the walls. At the center of the walled city is the Bell Tower. These buildings were common in ancient China and were used to announce the time. The Xi’an Bell Tower dates back to the 14th century.
Another beautiful building inside the walls is the Drum Tower. Located near the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower was also used to signify the time. This was accomplished by the beating of loud drums. Traditionally drum towers were used during the day, while bell towers were used during the night.
The city walls themselves are another attraction. Like the Great Wall of China, the tops of the city walls can be climbed and it is a fun way to walk around the city. It’s also possible to rent bicycles and cycle around the top of the walls.
The walled city is relatively compact and can be easily traversed on foot. Alternatively visitors can take taxis or motorcycle taxis. Unfortunately, like most Chinese cities, the walled city isn’t immune from traffic and pollution.
Exotic Eats on Muslim Street
Xi’an is home to approximately 80,000 Hui Muslims and is the home of China’s first mosque, built almost 1400 years ago. Muslim Street is the main street of the city’s Muslim Quarter. During the day the street is lined by small stands selling knickknacks and assorted items. At night, however, the street becomes one big night market. From sunset to midnight, the street is a hotbed of activity, packed with pedestrians and food stalls that sell different types of traditional sweets and eats.